THE Dragons were knocked out of the European Challenge Cup after imploding to lose 43-39 in remarkable clash with Northampton.

It looked like Ulster or Harlequins would be heading to Rodney Parade next weekend when the hosts led by 15 points on the hour.

However, they shipped three tries in a ridiculous finale that might lead to defence coach Simon Cross sitting in a dark room for the next week.

The Dragons should have earned a quarter-final tie but now will have to stew on several key moments for a fortnight before starting the Rainbow Cup.

They led 22-3 in the first half, went 32-17 up with half an hour to go only to concede to 13 men but still led 39-24 on the hour.

Yet they were dumped out through a combination of superb Saints attacking play and a lack of composure.

This will be a hard one to get over.

Free Press Series:

The collapse means a performance that included so much good won’t be one to cherish; there was no win over Northampton to put along with the Euro scalps of Gloucester, Stade Francais, Pau, Newcastle and Bordeaux-Begles.

It was a bonkers game featuring five Dragons tries and six by the Saints. The home side ultimately paid the price for keeping it bonkers when in command.

Dean Ryan’s men led 22-3 after 33 sublime minutes, picking up where they had left off in the Guinness PRO14.

A double by in-form wing Ashton Hewitt either side of another by in-form lock Matthew Screech put them in command.

Sadly, Hewitt was forced off after twisting his leg when finishing superbly and the Saints got a much-needed try before the break through giant wing Taqele Naiyaravoro.

The scoring continued in the third quarter with tries for Northampton by wing Ollie Sleightholme and scrum-half Alex Mitchell either side of a Sam Davies seven-pointer.

Tighthead Leon Brown seemed to have put the game to bed when making it 39-24 on the hour only for Saint back rower Teimana Harrison to respond swiftly.

He was followed over by Naiyaravoro and then the winning try, a breakaway, came through Tom Collins.

This next section was set to praise a number of heroic performers but it no longer seems the time for that.

Free Press Series:

The Dragons opened the scoring through the boot of Sam Davies in the seventh minute after the pack had won a scrum penalty.

It got even better after 12 minutes when they turned over a Northampton lineout in the 22 – earned after a break from the 22 and then a kick by Wales hooker Elliot Dee – and kept playing with penalty advantage.

Captain Rhodri Williams flicked the ball out to Jamie Roberts and the former Wales and Lions powerhouse showed a delicate touch to grubber to the left wing for Ashton Hewitt to score a simple try.

Davies added the extras from the touchline and it was 10-0 after 13 excellent minutes for the Dragons, who had scored points when on the front foot and also soaked up any pressure with strong defence.

Northampton chipped into the lead through the right boot of James Grayson after the hosts backed up penalties, with a breakdown offence on halfway and then in front of the posts.

But the Dragons moved into a 17-3 lead in the 27th minute when Matthew Screech barged over from close range, referee Alexandre Ruiz giving the try after a long, long look at the footage after he had shown yellow to Ollie Sleightholme for an early tackle on Jordan Williams in the build-up.

The third came down the same flank with the Dragons winning a scrum penalty, kicking to the 22 and then breaking to the left for Rhodri Williams and Davies to combine to put Hewitt over again.

The Wales hopeful finished superbly but sadly twisted awkwardly and was replaced by Wales centre Nick Tompkins.

Northampton were in a pickle but got the score they needed before the break when an attack in the 22 ended with Naiyaravoro spotting a chance at a ruck and cantering over for a try that Grayson improved.

The Saints made an extremely rapid start to the second half to cross after just 28 seconds after Naiyaravoro burst out of his 22 and scrum-half Alex Mitchell kicked through for Sleightholme to go over down the right, the winger wriggling out of Tompkins’ desperate tackle.

Grayson converted superbly but Davies matched his effort from the tee to make it 25-17.

The Dragons had a chance to go for the kill after 47 minutes when the visitors were reduced to 13 men after yellows for flanker JJ Tonks (dangerous tackle) and lock Alex Coles (slow rolling away in the 22).

Free Press Series:

The two-man advantage meant penalties were turned down in search of a try, a brave call that was rewarded when Sam Davies jinked over from a scrum and then knocked over the extras for a 32-17 lead with half an hour to go.

Yet the 13-man Saints struck straight back with a cracker by Alex Mitchell, although it was a try that will infuriate defence coach Simon Cross.

The scrum-half picked off Greg Bateman from a ruck and then did opposite number Rhodri Williams for pace. Grayson converted and it was 32-24.

Back came the Dragons and they backed themselves from the driving lineout rather than settling for three more points.

The drive was stopped but replacement tighthead Leon Brown couldn’t be from close range.

Davies converted for a 15-point lead but Northampton got five of those back when Harrison finished off a flowing move down the right.

The English side were on the front foot and the Dragons were down to 14 when Elliot Dee was sin-binned on 70 minutes for killing the ball five metres out.

It was game on with seven minute left when, playing with penalty advantage after a five-metre lineout was illegally stopped, the ball was flung to the left for Naiyaravoro to go over.

Grayson converted superbly but the Saints weren’t hunting a penalty leveller, the burst out and Collins finished superbly after Henry Taylor’s kick through.

Sometimes it’s easier covering the Dragons when they are hammered comprehensively.

Dragons: J Williams; J Holmes, A Owen, J Roberts, A Hewitt (N Tompkins 34); S Davies, R Williams (captain, G Bertranou 57); G Bateman (J Reynolds 67), E Dee, L Fairbrother (L Brown 57), J Davies (B Carter 55), M Screech, A Wainwright, H Keddie (D Baker 67), R Moriarty.
Scorers: tries – A Hewitt (2), M Screech, S Davies, L Brown; conversions – S Davies (4); penalties – S Davies (2)

Northampton: H Mallinder; O Sleightholme, F Dingwall, R Hutchinson, T Naiyaravoro; J Grayson, A Mitchell; N Auterac, M Haywood, E Painter, A Moon, A Coles, JJ Tonks, S Adendorff, T Harrison (captain).
Replacements: J Fish, A Waller, O Heffernan, L Bean, S Matavesi, H Taylor, A Tuala, T Collins.
Scorers: tries - Naiyaravoro (2), Sleightholme, Mitchell, Harrison, Collins; conversions – Grayson (5); penalties – Grayson

Referee: Alexandre Ruiz (France)